Summary: Respecting the wishes of a hero who wished his actions to remain unknown except to his community, a newspaperman writes the story of those actions to be included in his eulogy when it should become necessary.
Word Count: 1431
Standing there looking at the old Virginia City Trading Company building, long since abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair, the man remembered that day so long ago when he had written a story of heroism. That story had been picked up by other newspapers across the country, angering the man who had been at the center of the tale. Dan smiled as he thought about the day Adam Cartwright had stormed into his office and told him if he ever wrote another story about him, he had better invest in a good stomach doctor because he was going to be eating the whole edition that contained such a story. Dan had defended himself by saying it was the truth, but Adam had said that didn’t matter because it was his life, and he didn’t want it to be put out there for the public’s entertainment. It had been a great story, though, and Dan planned to use it in the eulogy he was writing to explain to people who had never met the man what he was like. He was still alive, but his youngest brother had told Dan that he had gotten a letter that Adam was ailing. Dan thought that such a man deserved a great eulogy, so he was writing it now even though he hoped it wouldn’t have to be used for many years. He tried to recall all of the conversation he had heard that day.
The first words Dan had heard were those of Adam addressing Hoss. Dan had heard of the mine collapse and the men who were trapped. That was a good story in itself, but then he heard the Cartwright brothers had a plan, so he followed up hoping to get a story with a happy ending.
“I wish I had never told you that we tricked you with the matches. If I hadn’t, it would be you going in there to pick up a crate of dynamite to load on the back of a wagon and haul it as fast as you can over five miles of rocky road. If I’m not blown into tiny bits by the time I get to that mine, I’ll have to take it in and see if the whole mountain is going to fall down on me.”
“If I would of won, you still would be the one to go in the mine. Neither Joe or me knows how to set the dynamite to get what you want.”
“I know. I was just complaining to blow off a little steam. Here take my gunbelt. I won’t be needing it, and it could get in the way.” Adam handed off his gunbelt to Hoss, took a deep breath, and exhaled. It was going to be a marathon from this point on.
Their father, Ben Cartwright, was trapped in a mine. They couldn’t try to excavate him and the others out because inspection had shown that the rock had slid around all the ribs and back from the portal all the way through the adit. If they tried to excavate, whatever hadn’t come crashing down already, would. Adam’s plan was that he was going to go down a narrow shaft and work his way to where the men were trapped. There were always gaps in a collapse; near the top and to the side there was likely to be a big enough opening for a man to get through. When he did that, Adam would probably collapse the drift he was using to get to the stope where the men were. As he moved rock behind him, he would destabilize what was there and it would close in behind him. Once in, his plan had to work or he would never come back out again. Adam had a plan to blast a new opening through more solid rock to the outside. He was carrying a map of the mine and one of the mountain in his pocket. He would need to carefully measure to find the right place to blast through to an underground cavern. There was a stream that fed out from there, but stone had partially collapsed it, so that there was only a tiny opening for water. He would need to expand the whole waterway and hope no more fell down than what he wanted. If it worked, Adam would be a hero, rescuing his father and the other men trapped with him. If he failed, he would bury himself and everyone else in their final resting place. Dan had followed them to the mine and listened as Joe worried that Adam would fail.
Adam’s fatalistic humor was not appreciated by his brothers. “Then I’ll be too deep for you to yell at me and be heard. At least, I won’t know what hit me if it collapses.”
“And our Pa, too, Adam.”
“Joe, I can’t forget that. I’m trying not to think too much about what I have to do.”
“I was just wishing you could be a mite more positive. You said it yourself. It’s the only chance Pa has.” Hoss wished he could do something but knew he was too large to fit in the openings that Adam had described. Joe was small enough but didn’t have the mining background to know where and how to set the charges. He knew it was all up to Adam. He could only pray he wouldn’t lose his father and his oldest brother.
“I’ll do my best.”
“I know. You always do.” Hoss had slapped Adam on the shoulder. Then he had waited until Adam secured the rope around his waist; Adam had a knapsack of dynamite on his back and a small pick and shovel in his hands. Slowly Hoss began lowering his older brother into that mine. Once the rope went slack, Hoss released it and sighed deeply when the frayed end dropped over the collar and into the depths below. Adam had a small candle lantern with him, matches, dynamite, a rope with feet marked off, and all of their hopes.
The only thing they could do then was wait. Every now and then, there was a small tremor and they all realized that the rock had shifted again down below. They could only hope it was behind Adam and not on top of him. Hoss sat with his brows furrowed and his eyes nearly squeezed shut. Joe paced about, sighing deeply on occasion. It was midnight when they heard the deep rumble of the first blast. Joe was scared and delighted at the same time, because it meant that Adam had reached the group that included their father. Every few hours, they would hear another dull thump indicating another blast. By then, they had moved to the area where Adam said they would exit if all worked as planned. As dawn broke, they heard another thump. Dan remembered Hoss and Joe getting excited.
“Hey, Joe, that sounded closer. They must be getting close to the outside. Adam said there was a natural cavern there and he was gonna get them down into it with the rope and then blast through the small stream that flows outta there. That water stopped flowing hours ago.”
“It did sound closer.”
Hoss had remembered Adam’s instructions. “We gotta wait at least a hundred feet away from where the water used to come out.”
Hoss and Joe had been joined by the friends and families of the other men trapped in there with their father. About two hours after dawn, there had been a blast that threw mud, dirt, and rock out from the side of the mountain. Once the smoke and debris had settled, one man covered in mud from head to toe had crawled out of the small opening. He had stood up on the shelf of rock that jutted out of the mountain and grinned. There had been no mistaking the white teeth in that grin. Soon he had reached down to grab a hand that extended out of the muddy hole. Hoss and Joe had been running there, and yelled when they saw their Pa stand up. One by one, the others had exited. Adam had tied off the rope he had used to get the men down into the cavern, and one-by-one, they had climbed down the twenty feet or so to helping hands down below. Adam had been the last to come down.
Dan had smiled and started writing the story about the hero of Mount Davidson.